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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 8 Hansard (28 October) . . Page.. 2403 ..


MR CORBELL (5.50): Mr Speaker, in the adjournment debate tonight I thought it would be useful to reflect on some of the comments today, indeed over the past few weeks, in relation to privatisation. I want to focus particularly on an assertion by the Government in the media that the private sector is effectively more willing and better able than the public sector to manage risk, to compete and to provide services efficiently. That is basically the key part of their argument. I thought it would be useful, in the short time we have in the adjournment debate tonight, to quote from some interesting sources which members might like to reflect on when they are considering the ACTEW debate further. The first is from Mr Clive Hamilton, who is the director of the Australia Institute. In a document this year he wrote:

The evidence internationally and for Australia on the efficiency gains from privatisation has been reviewed by, among others, the Industries Assistance Commission in an appendix to its inquiry into government charges. The evidence indicates that in industries where there is a natural monopoly - notably in the generation and distribution of electricity and in water supply - public ownership performs better than private ownership.

Dr Hamilton also said:

Much has been made of the efficiency improvements brought about by the privatisation of electricity generation and distribution in Victoria. But the game was given away at a conference on privatisation of the Hydroelectricity Corporation in Tasmania in November 1996. The Managing Director of Eastern Energy, Mr Stephen Blanch, said that when the new owners took over they discovered that "all of the hard work had been done". In preparation for sale the State Electricity Commission had rationalised the operation, retrenching a large proportion of the staff, proving that the required changes could be achieved under public ownership.

I think that is an interesting comment, Mr Speaker. Rather than go into a lengthy debate about privatisation now, I simply put those statements on the record.

The final quote is the most revealing one. It demonstrates that it is not the model of ownership that is important; it is how it is managed. The quote is not from what you may see as a left-of-centre think tank or indeed an affiliate of the Labor Party but from the Industry Commission, which is renowned for its relatively conservative approach to a whole range of economic issues. The quote from the Industry Commission is this:

A key factor determining the efficiency of an enterprise is how it is managed - not whether it is publicly or privately owned.

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